How to Clean 16 Awkward Household Items

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One of the best ways to keep your spending in check is to take good care of the things you already have. That means keeping them clean, and cleaning them correctly — so you don’t accidentally ruin them.

We researched 16 hard-to-clean items — everything from pillows to electric blankets to cats — so you’ll know how to maintain them yourself, as well as when it’s time to call a professional.


If you wash your pillowcases as regularly as your sheets but don’t wash the pillows themselves, your pillows are likely full of dead skin, dust mites and mite feces. How’s that for gross?

Experts recommend washing your pillows at least twice each year, but how you do it depends on what material they’re made of:

  • Synthetic and down-filled pillows: To wash these pillows, you’ll need a gentle liquid detergent and a few tennis balls or dryer balls. Wash them two at a time in the washer on a hot water cycle, and then dry them on low heat with the balls — that’ll help to fluff up the pillows again. Most pillows made from these materials can go in the dryer, but check the care label beforehand to make sure.
  • Latex and memory foam pillows: These pillows shouldn’t go in the washer, and they definitely shouldn’t go in the dryer. Hand-wash them with cold water and gentle detergent, then lay them flat to dry.


Between sweat, sunscreen, dirt and oil from your scalp, hats can get pretty grimy.

Most types of hats shouldn’t go in the washer or dryer, but check your care label — you might get lucky with some sturdy knits.

Baseball caps should be spot-cleaned, soaked and then hand-washed in cold water with a gentle detergent. To dry a cap, shape it and then set it on a head-sized item, like a large coffee can.

Straw sun hats can be spot-treated, rinsed thoroughly, and dried in the sun.

Finally, knit hats should be hand-washed in cold water with a gentle detergent, and then laid flat to dry.


A word of caution: Washing your cat will not prolong their life, generally speaking, and it may shorten yours.

Cats are pretty good at keeping themselves clean, but sometimes they need a little help from their humans. If your cat has fleas or ringworm, is elderly or obese, frequently ventures outside, or has the occasional litter box catastrophe, then you’ve got to do the deed.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A sink or tub (If you have a choice, it’s easier to keep a cat contained in a sink.)
  • Thick rubber gloves (to protect you from scratches)
  • Cat shampoo
  • Pitcher (less upsetting to the cat than a faucet)
  • Washcloth
  • Towel

Fill the sink or basin with a couple of inches of warm water and gently place the cat in it. Wet the cat from the neck down with the pitcher, apply shampoo, and lather. Use the washcloth to gently wipe down your kitty’s head, face and ears. Work quickly, because soapy cats are slippery cats.

Rinse with water from the pitcher and wrap cat in a towel. At this point, Fluffy has earned a generous helping of post-bath treats.


When it comes to shoes, sneakers are the easiest to clean.

First, remove the shoelaces and give the sneakers a couple of good whacks together outside — or over a garbage can — to remove any loose dirt and debris. Then, toss the shoes and laces in the washing machine with a load of towels and wash on the gentle cycle.

Air-dry the sneakers instead of running them through the dryer.

Canvas shoes, on the other hand, should be hand-washed with warm water and a gentle detergent. You can use a toothbrush or sponge to remove stains. After rinsing, you should air-dry the shoes.

Suede and leather footwear often require special fabric-specific cleaners; these shoes should be spot-cleaned only.

Your face

We’ve read some surprising statistics about face-washing recently, which is why we decided to include it on this list.

Apparently, more than half of American adults aren’t washing their faces before bedtime, and a staggering 46 percent of men don’t wash their faces at all. Worse, those who are washing their faces are doing it with all sorts of nonsense like hand soap or body wash.

What are you doing, people?! Ideally, you should wash your face twice a day — morning and night– with a face cleanser that’s formulated for your skin type.

If you have dry or sensitive skin, you can skip the morning wash and opt for a rinse with water. But definitely wash before you go to bed — this removes all the makeup, sweat, dirt and other grime from the day. Moreover, it’ll control the amount of bacteria breeding on your pillow.

Silk items

Most silk items say “dry clean” on the label, but we’re going to let you in on a little secret: They can usually be hand-washed in cold water with a gentle detergent.

To pretreat stains, work some detergent into the fabric with your fingers and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Be gentle when washing, and opt for rolling the garment in a clean towel to remove excess water before air-drying, rather than twisting or squeezing it.

Down comforters

Wash your down comforters once a year.

First, remove the duvet cover and wash that separately. If yours has any embellishments or delicate fabrics, you may need to have it dry-cleaned.

Then, wash the comforter in a front-loading washing machine on the gentle cycle with a mild detergent. Dry it on low heat with some tennis balls or dryer balls. You may need to hit up a laundromat if you don’t have large enough machines, but that still beats a $60 trip to the dry cleaner.

Electric blankets

Washing electric blankets is tricky business, but probably not as tricky as you think. In fact, most of them can even go in the washing machine.

Sunbeam recommends the following method: After disconnecting the power cords from the blanket, soak it in cold water with a mild detergent for 15 minutes. Then, wash on the gentle cycle for two minutes, rinse in cold water and spin-dry.

The brand recommends you only dry electric blankets for 10 minutes, so you might want to skip that step and just air-dry.

You can also hand-wash your blanket in cold water with a gentle detergent. If you have an old electric blanket — say, made before the late 1990s — don’t put it in the washing machine. And no matter how old the blanket is, make sure it’s completely dry before reconnecting any cords or controls.


Backpacks can usually be spot-cleaned, but when they get really dirty, it’s time to run them through the washing machine.

The challenge is making sure all those straps, buckles and zippers don’t damage your appliance. There are a few different options for addressing this. You can put the backpack in a mesh laundry bag, turn it inside out, or use this genius tip from Lifehacker and wash it inside a pillowcase.

Whichever method you’re using, wash the backpack on the gentle cycle in cold water, and hang it upside down to dry.


While you can technically run bras through the washing machine, handwashing with cold water and mild detergent is really the best way to prolong their life span — especially if you wear high-end brands. That said, cold water/gentle cycle/mild detergent is the way to go if you opt for the washer.

Always skip the dryer, and let bras air-dry.

Leather jackets

Leather is tricky to keep clean, as it’s so easy to damage. Never run your leather jacket through the washing machine or dryer. Spot-clean the outside with a damp cloth and some saddle soap or mild dish soap. You want to blot the leather; don’t rub.

When the liner needs a cleaning, you can wipe it down with a damp cloth and mild detergent, and then hang to dry.

Experts recommend a trip to the dry cleaners once a year to help prolong the life of your leather.

Winter coats

Most winter coats can be machine-washed and dried, but you should check the care tags to make sure.

Stick to cold water and regular detergent for parkas and puffy coats, and add some tennis balls or dryer balls to the dryer to keep ’em fluffy.

The exception to this advice is a wool coat, which can be spot-cleaned with a damp cloth and mild detergent, but should really head to the dry cleaner when it needs a deep clean.

Winter coats should be washed once or twice each season — definitely do it before packing them up for next year.


Wigs should always be washed and conditioned in cold water, rinsed thoroughly, and then placed on a wig stand to dry.

For human-hair wigs, any mild shampoo and conditioner will work. With synthetic wigs, it’s best to use products designed for synthetic hair.

Cloth diapers

If you’re an apartment dweller without access to your own washer or dryer, you might want to skip cloth diapers entirely or use a cleaning service. Sadly, most laundromats won’t let you wash cloth diapers there.

At home, the first step is to remove and discard any solids, then do a pre-rinse cycle with no detergent to loosen up the gunk. Then wash again with hot water and detergent. You can either dry on low heat or hang to dry.

Cast-iron cookware

Contrary to popular belief, you can use dish soap on a cast-iron pan. Start by washing the pan with warm, soapy water, using either a sponge or dish brush to rub off burnt-on bits. You can add a little coarse salt to the pan to help remove really tough bits.

Then, dry the pan very, very thoroughly — water is the enemy of cast iron.

Finally, rub the inside of the pan with a few drops of cooking oil, set it over high heat until just smoking, and then let it cool before storing.

Computer accessories

A dust cloth will do most of the work of cleaning your computer peripherals — your monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. — on a regular basis. But sometimes you need to go a bit deeper.

Damp cloths will get out smudge marks and mild stains, and disinfecting wipes will do the bigger jobs. Compressed air can help you loosen up dirt inside your keyboard. For sticky or hard-to-reach spots, a cotton swab lightly soaked in alcohol is just the thing.

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